Kali stood silently in the doorway to Gabriel’s room. The doctor bent over him, hand on Gabriel’s forehead. He shook his head.
Damn, Kali thought despondently. She knew that look. The doctor had, after all, been an almost constant fixture in her house for the past month. She knew almost all his looks now.
He touched Gabriel’s cheek once more, then turned to exit the room.
“Well?” Kali asked. She raised her eyebrow as she leaned against the door jamb, arms crossed over her chest. While her posture spoke of ease and indifference, every muscle ached.
“There is nothing I can do for him,” the physician said. “The sickness has progressed too far.”
“What if I took him to a warmer climate? To the desert?”
He shook his head. “I doubt he would survive the journey, Lady. Even if he did, his lungs are too damaged. The only thing to do is keep him comfortable until he has passed. Keep him on opium to ease his suffering.”
She pressed her lips together. Rage swept through her. Unfair, she railed. Gabriel was so young—to young—to face all he had. And now that he was finally free, he was dying.
She had intended to give him a choice. Allow him to live his life as a free man until he was older. Let him see if he truly wanted to spend eternity with her or if he would be satisfied with the mortal life he had.
But the time had run out.
She’d lived long enough to stop expecting the universe to be just. And yet, every time, injustice such as this took her off guard. She was hopeless; time and suffering had not yet made her a realist. Perhaps nothing every would.
Gabriel was pale and sweating. The white linen he laid on tangled him in its grasp. He slept fitfully, face scrunched. His breath rasped painfully to her ears.
She sat on the bed and took his hand. Under normal circumstances, he was warmer than she. Tonight, he burned. He was a flame, filled with pale fire that consumed him.
“Gabriel, my love. We must talk.”
He opened his eyes. They normal deep, clear blue was unfocused and hazy. “You’re here,” he whispered. “I was afraid you wouldn’t come back. Master doesn’t like you. He doesn’t like the way I look at you. Or how you look at me. But I can’t help it. You’re so beautiful. You call to me.”
He was delirious.
“Your master is dead, my love. I killed him. Remember? You’re a free man now. A free man, free to choose your own life.”
Gabriel frowned. His mouth worked a few times, sticky. Kali poured him some water and helped him sit up. After he drank, he lay back down. “Free.” A foreign concept. “He’s dead. Yes, that’s right. I remember. How could I forget I’m free?” He swallowed. “And dying.”
Her eyes prickled. She blinked as she tried to free them of the dust that must be irritating them. “Yes.” She cleared her throat. “You know I can prevent death. I can stop it, at least for a time.” His hair was damp under her fingers.
“I know.” He smiled at her and leaned his head into her hand.
“I wanted to wait, but there isn’t time. I need to know, Gabriel. Do you want me to make you into what I am. Is that what you want?”
“My goddess,” Gabriel breathed. He sat up, life coming to his eyes. “My love. My everything. I want this more than you can know.”
She caught him before he could embrace her. “Gabriel, you must think. I know you are entranced by the idea of immortality. No one wants to die. But think.” She ran her knuckles down his cheek. “You are but seventeen. You will never look any older. You will have to rely on other beings for sustenance. Human beings. You will be a killer. Is that really what you want.”
His full lips turned down. “Yes.” He bit his thumb. Then, hesitantly, he said, “You don’t always kill when you feed.”
“Well. No, but…”
Gabriel kissed her. His lips were an ember against hers, and she feared she would catch fire.
“Please,” he whispered against her mouth. “Make me yours. Turn me so that I may have eternity to worship you.”
Her moan was captured by his mouth. Her reservations melted at his touch. If she could keep such a treasure for eternity, it would not be as long as she’d feared.
Kali threaded her fingers through the damp, silken strands. Her lips slid over his cheeks, his jaw, down his neck. She opened her mouth, fangs extending, pressed against him, and…
Alertness jerked her into a state of semi-consciousness. Gabriel and the room and the sick-bed melted away. She rolled onto her back and opened her eyes to find herself in a… in a cave.
“Okay,” she whispered. Her tonsils felt too big for her throat. “That is weird.”
“You’re making me look bad, you know.”
She shivered at the rich, sensuous voice. Warm breath caressed her ear. A strong body pressed against her back, spooning her.
“How so?” She rolled over to face her bed partner.
Storm cloud eyes glinted at her. “I taught you something no lower being has ever learned. I gave you a gift by teaching you to dream weave. I know it worked. I know you dream of your past life.”
“I dream. Strange dreams,” she said. Then she frowned. “This is a dream.”
He rolled his eyes. “Mortals are so tedious.”
“Then why,” Kali began, amusement welling in her. She stopped and frowned.
The man smiled. “Then why what?” He trailed his fingers down her body as if he had permission. “Please, finish your thought, Kali.”
“I was going to ask you why you are so fascinated by them.” She sat up. “You were kicked out of heaven because you kept interfering with mortals.”
He rolled onto his back, hands laced behind his head. “So they say,” he said with a smug smile.
“Who are you?” Kali asked. She touched his hair, red-gold that shown like a flame. When he didn’t object, she continued her exploration. His skin was soft. Flawless and icy pale, like one would expect from a vampire, but he was warm and smelled of fresh air and sunlight.
“Who do you think I am?” he asked.
“I don’t know.” Then, a name appeared in her thoughts. “Azazel.”
“Very good.” He rolled over and pinned her to the bed “Now, get this through your head, little goddess. Your dreams. Your strange, vivid dreams aren’t just dreams. They are memories. Memories you preserved to help you along should you be killed and subsequently reincarnated.”
“How would I know that might happen?”
“Don’t know, don’t care. What I do know is I made a promise. I never make promises.” His lips quirked. “At least, I never make promises that I intend to keep. But you were interesting. And having you back might be interesting.” Azazel’s face darkened. “So stop acting like a frightened little girl and start accepting that this is all real.”
“I don’t want it to be real.”
“Tough.” He lowered his face to hers. His eyelashes brushed against her cheeks. Then he kissed her.
A shock jolted through Kali. Images flooded her mind, images of places she’d never been and people she’d never met. Images of Garrison at the head of a church and sitting across from her in an opulent room. Gabriel in a toga, face bruised, eyes lowered. Jesus on the cross. Pyramids. Stonehenge. Notre Dame. Azazel in his cave, this cave, teaching her…
She broke the kiss. Her lungs felt constricted. “Azazel.”
“You remember, little one.” Not a question.
“It will all untangle itself in time. I opened the floodgate, unblocked the dam. There’s a reason lower beings don’t do this. I should have come sooner.” He shrugged. “Ah well.” Azazel kissed her again. “Don’t forget me this time.”
Kali opened her eyes again, this time in the real world. Her lids were heavy, as were her muscles. It was painful to sit up. Her body didn’t want to obey her.
“Drugged,” she whispered.
Garrison must have drugged her. The level of exhaustion she felt was overwhelming. Not normal. It was heavy, sickening, like when she’d taken too much cough syrup when she was ten.
Kali tried to rub her eyes, but they were taped behind her. She glanced at Garrison. He was asleep in the other bed. She wondered how he managed to sleep, knowing he was going to kill her. He probably didn’t care. Like he hadn’t cared about the security guard or people at the bar.
Tears rose to Kali’s eyes. She’d never seen anyone die before. Never seen anyone get killed. And Gabriel’s death had been brutal.
And, even if Garrison had been telling the truth, and Gabriel wasn’t dead, the image of Garrison emptying his gun into the still body was not one that would fade from Kali’s mind any time soon.
A knock at the door broke the sleepy stillness. Kali jumped.
“Help!” she tried to shout. She couldn’t force any sound out of her mouth.
The door exploded inward. It cracked and hung on the hinges. Two huge, muscular men stormed in.
“Damnu ort!” Garrison jumped off the bed, going for his gun.
The men grabbed him first. They dragged him across the room.
“This is useless.” Garrison’s feet scrambled to stay under him. “You can’t protect her.”
“We might as well try,” a woman said.
Kali looked at the door.
A woman holding a black umbrella stood just inside. She was tall, broad shouldered, and big hipped. Her hair fell in black waves to the middle of her back. Her eyes were dark in the shade of the umbrella, maybe green, maybe black. She wore a black dress with a fringed sash knotted over one hip. Her lips were full and sensuous, cheekbones high, eyes wide set. Her skin was tanned, but looked strange. It was static, somehow, sort of glassy, like the skin of a porcelain doll.
She smiled. “Hello, Garrison.” Her voice was low and rough, the accent muddled, like it held the accent of many different countries. “You look well.”
“You will burn in the deepest depths of hell, Morgan.”
“Hardly the way to greet an old friend. Better, though, than hitting me with your car. That was just rude.” She stepped further into the room and closed her umbrella. She then turned to Kali. “Hello, Kali,” she said with a bow.
“Hello.” Kali rubbed her eyes. She’d seen this woman before. Seen her standing in crowds. Seen her in dreams.
“That dress looks lovely on you.” She sat behind Kali and started to cut the tape from her wrists. “Garrison always had impeccable taste. And he did love you in green.”
“I took the first dress I saw. Don’t believe for a moment I was suddenly overcome with sentimentalism.” Garrison’s accent was noticeably thicker than before, making him sound more Irish than English.
“Yes, you just happened to choose a dress that is the same color as the one she was wearing the night you fell in love with her. I completely believe you.” The tape broke apart. Morgan rose and went to Garrison. “Father, this vendetta of yours must end. Your brother is dead, and we are sorry for that. But we all know why you really want to destroy her.”
“One of you monsters killed my brother. For that, you must be destroyed, starting with your so-called goddess.”
“No. You fell in love with Kali and blame her for your weakness in nearly breaking your vows. You’re angry because Kali proved that, despite your pride, you are nothing but a self-righteous, hypocritical, sinful priest and no better than anyone else.”
“She proved you were a man. Get over it.”
Garrison clenched his jaw. He looked away. “I will kill her, Morgan. I will destroy you are, starting with that whore of a…”
Morgan moved so quickly, all Kali saw was a blur. One moment, Garrison spoke. Then, his throat was gone. In its place was blood and gristle. Flesh and blood was piled in Morgan’s hand.
Eyes wide, Garrison’s body fell. It hit the floor with a thud. Blood soaked the carpet.
“Take care of how you speak of my goddess.” Morgan dropped the remains of Garrison’s throat next to his body. “Get me a towel.”
One of the men retreated to the bathroom.
“I’m sorry you had to see that, Kali.” Morgan returned to the bed. She cut through the tape binding Kali’s feet. “I would have preferred to protect your innocence a while longer.”
She swallowed and took a few deep breaths, willing her heart to stop pounding. “And eye for an eye,” she whispered, pretending she believed it.
The man returned and handed Morgan a towel.
Kali looked at Garrison’s body. She wished she hadn’t. “Who are you?”
“A friend. A Follower.”
One of them “You knew Gabriel.”
“I do.” She finished wiping the blood from her hands and dropped the towel.
“Are you a vampire?”
She looked at Garrison again. “Why didn’t you drink his blood?”
“You asked me not to.” She picked some flesh embedded under her fingernails. “All of us, actually. You refused to kill someone who had once been your friend. Or to fulfill his belief that we are nothing more than monsters.”
“Well. I was stupid.”
Morgan laughed. “No, darling, not stupid. Loyal. And the situation was more complicated than it appears now.”
“Not now. We need to go.” Morgan held out her hand.
Kali took it and stood. “So, we knew each other in my… my past life.”
“Yes. I was with you in the Beginning.”
“Did I make you?”
Kali looked Morgan over carefully. Blushing, she had to ask, “Were we, uh, like together?”
“Why, yes. Do you remember?” Morgan’s smile was bright.
“No. It’s just… you’re my type. Assuming my tastes haven’t changed.” She rubbed her forehead, trying to massage some of the pounding out. “You’re not going to, uh. You know. Feed off me. Turn me into a vampire, are you?”
“Then I’ll go with you.” She pulled her hand away from Morgan’s and began to scratch at the tape on her wrists. “But only until I can get to the police and go home.”
“Darling, you can’t go home. It’s too dangerous.”
“Garrison is dead. It’s over.”
Morgan shook her head. “He’s not dead. And we should leave before he puts himself back together. Come.” She put her hand on Kali’s shoulder and tried to lead her from the room.
Kali refused to budge. “What do you mean, put himself back together? He’s dead!”
“Kali, please. There isn’t time to explain. Just understand there is a lot of magic at work. He’s managed to make himself virtually immortal, and I’d rather not have to tear out his throat again. Come on.”
This time, she was clearly using some kind of extra strength that vampires were reported to have. She pulled Kali so she was forced to follow, pausing only to open the umbrella again before they stepped out into the bright sun.
A limo waited outside. Kali was ushered into it, sinking inside the cool darkness as Morgan pulled the door shut. Exhausted, Kali fell onto the plush seats and closed her eyes as another wave of dizzy sleepiness washed over her.
A cool hand touched her forehead. “Are you all right?” Morgan asked.
Kali forced her eyes open. Morgan leaned over her, hair hanging over her shoulders. It brushed against Kali’s cheeks, soft as feathers.
The doors to the front of the car opened and slammed shut again. A moment later, the engine started and the car started moving.
She sat up. “How long have I been dead?”
“One hundred and twenty years. Garrison killed you April 5, 1885.”
“Oh.” She tugged at one of her curls. “And you’re really a vampire?”
Morgan nodded. She opened her mouth. Her fangs extended, long, sharp, and deadly.
Without warning, Kali began to cry. She was so tired, so sore and hurt, and just so sick of all this. “I thought vampires couldn’t go out in the day. I mean,” she sniffed, “come on. First crosses don’t affect you, and now you’re out in the daytime.”
Morgan sighed and pulled a handkerchief from somewhere. She dabbed at Kali’s tears. “I know this is hard to understand…”
“Just because you all keep changing the rules on me!”
“Come on, Kali, even Anne Rice recognized that the older vampires get, the more powerful they were likely to become. I’m over six thousand years old. I can’t be in full sunlight, but neither am I completely powerless during the day.”
Kali sniffed and scrubbed at her nose with the back of her hand. “I don’t know what disturbs me more, the fact that all this is happening or that vampires read vampire books.”
She laughed. “We do live in the world. We therefore partake of the entertainment the world has to offer. Gabriel was absolutely addicted to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He has the entire DVD set and all the companion books.”
Kali laughed. It was hard to get the sound out, though. “How do you know Garrison?”
“You… well, the past incarnation of you introduced him to me. He was a priest at a small church in Ireland. You asked him to be Gabriel’s theology teacher in the seventeen hundreds.”
“Theology teacher,” Kali said slowly. “Because Gabriel… told the Virgin Mary that her child was the son of god and…” Kali frowned as the information she’d gleaned from Garrison was replaced with something more like a memory. “And Gabriel wanted to understand. Not the mystery of what happened, but the religion itself, because he’d been in love with Jesus and he was heartsick at the violence done in his name.” Kali covered her mouth, horrified, and quickly crossed herself.
“To be fair, there are few Gabriel doesn’t love,” Morgan said. “And when he loves, it’s with his whole heart, always romantic and true.”
She swallowed. “You’re not saying…”
“No, of course not.” Morgan laughed. “There is much left out of or changed in the Bible, but Jesus as a sodomite is not one of them. And, no, no one bit him, either. We’ll leave such stories safely between the pages of fiction.”
Kali smiled as her eyes slid shut again. “To more active imaginations.”
“Yes.” She stroked Kali’s hair and neck.
Her muscles relaxed. Breath evened. Darkness closed around her.
It seemed as if she’d closed her eyes for only a moment, but, the next thing she knew, the car had stopped and Morgan was shaking her gently.
“What?” Kali groaned.
“We’re here, dear. Time to get up.”
Kali sat up and looked out the window. They were in the hills, surrounded by trees and gorgeous flowers. She could see they were parked at the end of a long, winding driveway, but there was nothing where the house should be but an empty expanse of land.
“Where are we?”
“Hollywood Hills. Come.” The door opened and, again opening her umbrella, Morgan stepped out into the well shaded parkway.
“There’s nothing here,” Kali protested, thanking the bodyguard to helped her out of the car. “Morgan.”
“Please follow me, Kali. I do need to get out of the sun.”
“But there’s nothing there.”
“Yes, there is. It’s simply protected from unwanted eyes. And, right now, that includes yours.” She took Kali’s hand. “Trust me, my dear.”
Of course, Kali had no choice but to do just that. Convinced that she’d just been rescued by an insane vampire, Kali limped after Morgan, heart thudding in her chest. They were walking nowhere.
“Step up,” Morgan repeated. She demonstrated, suddenly a foot higher than Kali, floating.
Impossible. But Kali tried it, lifting her foot as if she were walking up stairs. “What?” she gasped.
A stair appeared beneath her foot. And then another. Five in all, and then a porch. She couldn’t see the door until Morgan let her through, but once inside…
“My God,” Kali breathed.
It was a mansion. Like something out of a movie. High, vaulted ceilings, miles of marble floors, gorgeous paintings and sculptures, plants and a beautiful crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling.
“How did you do that?” she demanded.
It wasn’t like Kali could object. The house had been invisible a moment before. Either she was dreaming—which was possible—or it really was magic.
She turned slowly, taking it all in. “This is amazing.”
“I’m glad you think so.” Morgan put her hand on Kali’s shoulder. “You need rest, my dear. Rest, food, and a bath, I think.”
She nodded, still looking around in wonder.
“Do you think you can make it upstairs?”
Kali eyed the stairs doubtfully, then looked back at the silent guards. They were clearly ready and willing to carry her up the stairs to whatever room Morgan had set aside for her.
“I think I’ll be fine.” She leaned on Morgan as they walked up the stairs. Magic. Wow. As tired as she was, she didn’t want to sleep. She wanted to explore.
She suddenly caught a glimpse of gold and blue in the corner of her eyes.
“You found her!”
Kali looked up to the second floor landing. Standing at the banister, pale hands clutching the dark wood, was a deathly-pale Gabriel.
Kali gasped, the world spinning around her. “Gabriel,” she managed to choke out just before the darkness swept her away.